Rites of Passage

“The girls are the lucky ones,” Manuel Lopez-Loaiza said, referring to the age-old female rite of passage known as a quinceañera.

Growing up with two sisters in Sonora, Mexico, Laoiza has seen his share of preparation for the multi-day event.  Laoiza spent his whole life living in Ciudad Obregon in Sonora, Mexico, the second largest state in the country.  He has helped in the preparation and participated in two quinceañeras for his sisters who have gone off to study in Monterrey, Mexico.

A quinceañera is a female rite of passage that represents a girl becoming a woman.  At fifteen (quince in Spanish), families in Mexico pull out all of the stops to celebrate their daughters and the lives they have ahead of them.  The age-old tradition is said to date back to Aztec times, and represents that a girl has become a woman and is of an age to marry.

Many families rent out nightclubs or event rooms and prepare extravagant parties for the woman to be.  Others who may not be so affluent set up folding chairs and tables in fields or corrals and have other family members co-sponsor the event.

“The most important thing is the dress,” Loaiza said, “It’s almost like a wedding.”

Dresses are the main focus for the event, and are usually pastel colored, or white.  The accessories that go with the dress are almost equally important as well.  Shoes play a large role in the event, not only for stylistic purposes, but also for a ceremony where the father exchanges his daughter’s flat shoes for a high heel signifies her transition into womanhood.

Girls plan out guest lists, food, venue, photos and if their family has the means, they end up spending a lot of money on this special event.

Since there are no bridal parties in weddings south of the border, the girls get their fill by having a select group of girls and guys that are “VIPs” who dress in color-coordinated evening wear to the event and are main participants in the party.  It is custom for a partner dance at the quinceañera, and the woman to be’s partner is usually someone she has known for a long time; a close family friend, boyfriend, or good school friend.

On the first day of the event, the main party takes place with friends and family.  Music and laughter fill the air while teenagers dance the night away in honor of their hostess.  A large cake is usually present at the first night’s festivities, but it sits untouched all night.  This is because it is usually eaten the second day with relatives and close friends to celebrate the girl’s birthday.

But before all of the festivities begin, the birthday girl must attend church.  This is the most important part of the tradition, and Mass with her parents and godparents, as well as other relatives and friends, is mandatory before the party.  The birthday girl dresses in fancy garb, usually accompanied by flamboyant hats and other accoutrements.

Unfortunately for Manuel, no such event exists for men in Mexico.  “When I turned fifteen, I went to church, that’s it,” he said.

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